Sunday, March 4, 2012

Now Comes the Curveball: A Review of "The Little Green God of Agony"

Published in the Stephen Jones anthology A Book of Horrors, "The Little Green God of Agony" is a strong new story from Stephen King.

It's the story of a physical-therapy nurse who is trying to help a rich old man recuperate from some serious injuries.

If you're a Stephen King fan, it's worth reading.

I have very little to say about it apart from that ... at least, not without divulging key plot details and ruining the story's events for you.  So, unless you've read the story already, you probably want to stop reading now.

Here are amusing photos I found on the internet recently:


  

Heh.  If there's anything funnier than a dog standing on two legs, it's got to be Picard and Worf looking at a chicken.  If I recall correctly, that's from the episode in which Riker nearly bangs a hot chick who's a member of a colony of farmers -- all of whom, charmingly, have Irish accents -- who are relocating to a different planet.  That was (I think) beardless Riker, so you know he must have been bringing his A-game.

Whuzzat?!?

Oh, you're still here?

WE-ell, THAT must mean you want to read some spoilers about "The Little Green God of Agony."

Make it so!

Alright, so here's the rundown on what happens in the story: Kat, the nurse, is in the sickroom of Andy Newsome, who is trying -- not very hard, as far as she can tell -- to recover from numerous broken bones and other injuries sustained when he survived a plane crash.  She's been responsible for his physical therapy, and has traveled with him as he's consulted numerous doctors who've tried -- and failed -- to cure the chronic pain he's been experiencing for the last two years.

Now, having apparently run out of other options, he has hired a faith healer -- Reverend Rideout -- to come to him to do what the doctors cannot.  As the story begins, Newsome is telling Rideout about his experiences, and Kat -- having heard the story numerous times before -- is mentally reciting each line to herself (nearly word-for-word) before Newsome speaks them.  Once he's done, Rideout names his price, and Kat explodes in barely-repressed anger, telling her patient that he's being a fool, and that if he'll do what she knows he CAN do -- put some effort into his therapy -- then he'll get better, whereas if he heeds the scam offered by this new charlatan, he'll only get milked.
 
Newsome begins to fire Kat, but Rideout stipulates that that not happen; he wants to teach her a lesson.  He explains that Newsome's pain is a little god, one that can be expelled and contained.

And (wouldn't you know it) ... he ends up being right!

What, did you think I was going to tell you everything that happens?  Nosir.  Got to leave some things for you to discover on your own.

And anyways, it's not necessary for me to divulge all the details in order to point out that what makes "The Little Green God of Agony" work is the sudden reversal.  "Now comes the curveball," Newsome says to Rideout at one point when it appears that the Reverend is about to tip his hand and inadvertently reveal the nature of the con he is running on the rich, pained old man.  Newsome is right; a curveball IS coming, but it's not one of the nature he expects: instead, it is the curveball of proving that he'd entirely right about the little god of agony he claims is living within Newsome and feeding on him.

As an audience, though, we expect there to be exactly that type of curveball.  We expect it when we read ANY tale of supernatural horror, especially one written by Stephen King.  So, for us, it's isn't a curveball at all to find out that there is a small green monster living inside Andy Newsome, feeding on his pain.  No, for us the curveball comes when the story shifts suddenly shifts from being the tale of a nurse who is tired of hearing her patient complain to the story of a nurse discovering that her patient has a really, really good reason to have been complaining all those months.

Here, the horror lies in discovering that sometimes, your assumptions about someone can be badly wrong.

I found "The Little Green God of Agony" to be a damn fine horror story, one that would have fit into Skeleton Crew quite nicely.

The same is also true of Stephen King's final 2011 short story, "The Dune." I'll be back tomorrow with a look at that story.

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